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November 25, 2013

Transaction Analysis

The Cardinals Pay Peralta's Price

by Ben Lindbergh and Bret Sayre

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ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Reportedly signed SS-R Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million contract, pending a physical. [11/23]

Everyone knew that the Cardinals needed a shortstop, that there was no way they would enter next season counting on Pete Kozma. GM John Mozeliak said so, in case it wasn’t obvious enough when we looked at Kozma’s slash line. And so for a while the trendy topic was to try to do Mozeliak’s job for him, identifying his options and proposing appropriate packages that would rob St. Louis’ strength to shore up their one weakness.

Maybe Mozeliak had his eyes on Peralta all along, and the trade talk was an attempt to lower the free agent’s leverage. (If so, it didn’t work very well.) Or maybe the fact that trading surplus pitching for a shortstop seemed so obvious—so inevitable, even—paradoxically made it more difficult. J.J. Hardy might have made sense for St. Louis, but not when the Orioles asked for Shelby Miller. Jurickson Profar might have made sense, too, but not after Texas traded Ian Kinsler. As the options dwindled, the eyes of every other GM with a decent shortstop to dangle—which wasn’t a long list—must have lit up when the Cardinals called. Maybe they all asked for Miller or Carlos Martinez, refusing to settle for arms the Cards would have been willing to part with, like Lance Lynn or Joe Kelly. And maybe Mozeliak grew tired of being held hostage, of hearing constant demands for players he’d drafted, signed, and developed—and in the process, grown attached to.

Given that sort of scenario, it’s easy to imagine how tempting it would be to plug the one hole the Cardinals have failed to fill from within without surrendering any of the stockpiled young talent at other positions that sets the organization apart. After all, it’s not like one move would make paying a premium a habit. And what good is all that cost control without someone to spend the savings on?

Still, it’s strange to see St. Louis fill a need by signing a free agent who’s probably past his prime to a contract he probably won’t be worth, just like any old organization without the reputation for being the best-run team in baseball. It’s not necessarily dumb. It’s just…uncreative, and un-Cardinals. It’s been just over six years since Mozeliak replaced Walt Jocketty, and prior to Peralta, he’d signed only two free agents to $20 million deals: Matt Holliday, who had already been in the organization, for seven years and $120 million, and Carlos Beltran, who barely cleared the bar at two and 26. Holliday’s pact was completed almost four years ago, and in the last two years, the Cards have been close to self-sufficient, paying for only five free agents besides Beltran: Rafael Furcal (who, like Holliday, was re-signed after being acquired via trade) a pair of lefty relievers, Ronny Cedeno, and regrettably, Ty Wigginton.

As jarring as it is to see St. Louis sign a big-money free agent, it might be more jarring to see Peralta be that big-money free agent.

For one thing, Peralta doesn’t look like a shortstop. At 215 pounds, he’s heavier than all but a few other regulars at the position—Troy Tulowitzki, Brandon Crawford, and Hanley Ramirez. Tulo is taller, so his weight is well distributed, and he easily passes the eye test. Crawford defies physics. Hanley’s appearance isn’t deceptive: he really isn’t a shortstop. Defensive metrics have always despised him, and if the Dodgers had anyone better, he’d still be at third, where the Marlins moved him.

Peralta is different. He doesn’t make many highlight-reel plays or appear to have great range. The Indians—the team that signed him as an amateur free agent and got to see him every day for the next decade—evidently agreed, moving him to third when he was 27 to make way for Asdrubal Cabrera. Yet it’s Cabrera who’s been a net negative defender, according to every advanced defensive metric, while Peralta rates as positive (or at worst breakeven), particularly lately. Players aren’t supposed to get better at fielding in their late 20s, but according to both the defensive stats and the way teams have treated him, Peralta has (perhaps by being in The Best Shape of His Life).* And now a contending team with a third baseman and a second baseman who are both under contract through 2017 have entrusted him with the job for the next four years.

Another thing Peralta is going about backwards: making money. He last hit the open market after 2010. That time, he got two guaranteed years, for a total of $10.75 million. Three years closer to the bad end of the aging curve, he’s hit paydirt.

Let’s recap. Age 27, moved off shortstop; Age 31, signed to play shortstop through age 35. Age 28, gets a two-year contract; age 31, following a positive PED test and suspension,** gets a four-year contract with an AAV more than 200 percent higher. What a weird career.

Our predictive powers clearly aren’t up to the task of anticipating Peralta’s next move. Earlier this month, baseball’s newsbreakers had no idea how much he was about to make. Jim Bowden—whose free-agent contract calls have proven eerily accurate in the past—expected two years and $20 million when he published his predictions less than two weeks ago. Jon Heyman, a week earlier, predicted two years and $18 million, with the anonymous agent and GM he surveyed saying 2/$21 and 2/$16, respectively. MLBTradeRumors’ Tim Dierkes, the day before that, wrote that Peralta “may manage a three-year deal in the $30MM range, given the limited market at his position.” Maybe Heyman’s GM was Dave Dombrowski; the Tigers didn’t extend Peralta a qualifying offer, fearing that he’d settle for one year, $14.1 million, and a spot at second or in left.

It’s not that everyone failed to anticipate what wins would be going for this winter. Nine of the 50 free agents Bowden published estimates for signed before Peralta, for a total of $225.75. Bowden’s predicted total came to $219, with a $10 million miss on Carlos Ruiz and differentials of $5 million or less for the other eight moves. On Peralta, he was off by over $30 million. Either the Cardinals overpaid, the internet underrated Peralta, or we seriously underestimated how hard it is to find a shortstop. Stephen Drew will cost a draft pick, but if Peralta’s contract is any indication, he’s about to give Scott Boras a big commission.

Peralta projects to be roughly a league-average hitter next season, which—as a decent defensive shortstop, a below-average baserunner, and a durable player who’s never been on the DL—would make him worth about 2.5 wins. Subtracting the standard 0.5 win per season aging penalty thereafter would yield a total of seven wins over the life of the contract, at a rate of $7.4 million per win. That doesn’t sound like great bang for the Cardinals’ buck, but after factoring in inflation, it might not be so bad. Even if it ends up over the market rate, it might make sense for St. Louis, given the magnitude of the upgrade over Kozma, the team’s lack of empty costs elsewhere, and their position on the win curve.

Plus, Peralta might not follow the typical decline curve. He certainly hasn’t so far.

*A few months ago, I laid out the evidence that Derek Jeter had made his own Peralta-like improvement through improved positioning and training techniques. The difference was that Jeter didn’t make those tweaks so until he was older than Peralta is now. Shortly thereafter, his defense headed downhill again; he’d overcome his old habits just in time to succumb to decline due to natural causes.

*Some columnists will be up in arms that Peralta's positive test seems not to have cost him a cent. Maybe the more interesting takeaway, for me, isn't that teams don't financially punish PED users for their bad behavior—it's that teams evidently aren't convinced that PEDs are the super-soldier serum many fans think they are. If the Cardinals believed that Peralta's strong performance for Detroit was the result of whatever he took, and were worried that he'd collapse without it, they wouldn't have made him their fourth-highest-paid player. Ben Lindbergh

Fantasy:

Jhonny Peralta

From the Peralta owner’s perspective, the best news to come out of this signing is that the Cardinals not only plan to play Peralta at shortstop, but that because of their ridiculous depth at the corners, they’re very unlikely to move him off the position in the next couple of seasons. That means he’ll maintain the eligibility that makes him worth rostering in nearly all leagues. The switch from the AL to the slightly easier league should mean a slight uptick in his stats (the stadium difference is negligible for right-handed power); for what it’s worth, Peralta is a career .301/.365/.491 hitter against National League pitching. He was the 14th-ranked shortstop in 2013 despite his 50-game suspension, but that .374 BABIP likely would have come way down had he kept playing. Even playing in an improved lineup, a top-10 option at shortstop he is not.

Pete Kozma

If you owned Kozma this year in a fantasy league that actually rewarded positive performance, then you were doing something horribly wrong. At least now you’ll have one less name to cross off your draft list when you filter by projected playing time. —Bret Sayre

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

Related Content:  St. Louis Cardinals,  Jhonny Peralta

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

jedjethro

Kudos to the BP staff for the timely weighing in over the weekend on the rash of transactions.

Nov 24, 2013 12:16 PM
rating: 11
 
EMielke

I second the above

Nov 24, 2013 12:47 PM
rating: 2
 
eliyahu

Ben, while your takeaway seems to be that front offices don't think PEDs are terribly useful, my opinion is that the more likely takeaway is that they expect the players to continue to use them and to continue to avoid detection.

There is no way that so many players would continue to use and risk tarnishing their legacies if they weren't convinced that they helped.

Nov 24, 2013 15:04 PM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Couple things: I don't know how much PEDs help (I'm sure it varies, depending on the PED and the person), but the fact that the players are convinced that they work wonders doesn't sway me much. These are the same people who wear Phiten necklaces because they think they have performance-enhancing powers.

As for the first point, I think it would be pretty risky for a team that believed that a player was made much more productive by PEDs to give a ton of money to that player even after he'd been busted. You have to figure that the guy will be a little less likely to use after sitting out for 50 games, losing salary, and attractive negative attention. And if he does continue to use--well, he's already proven that he doesn't know how to do it without eluding detection. Maybe he'll get luckier next time, but if he doesn't, you'll be left with a big hole to fill for 100 games, with little or no notice. Unless you think teams are actively working with players to help them take PEDs without testing positive--and I don't, though I wouldn't be surprised if that had happened at some point before testing was in place--it would be a big leap of faith for them to take.

Nov 25, 2013 01:05 AM
 
eliyahu

Ben,

Thanks for your response. While of course its "risky" to keep using PEDs after you've been caught, only the players know how long they've been using. If, for example, a player was caught once in a 10-year period, and is convinced that this is the difference between him being a major league player vs not being a major league player, I have to believe that he'll continue using.

Put it this way: All credible reports seem to indicate that use was widespread, yet how many players were actually suspended? If you are convinced that your financial future is in the balance and that further use is the difference between retiring in your 30s vs. working til your 60s -- and the only punishment is a second suspension which almost no users in history have ever received -- I'm betting that players who used once will use again after being caught.

To your other point, I would never suggest that front offices are actively encouraging use. I would hypothesize that the savvier front offices and scouting departments are aware that this is prevalent, felt powerless to stop it, turned a blind eye, and guess like many fans do.

Finally, wearing a Phiten necklace doesn't come with the risk of ruining one's reputation and career. To compare PED usage with superstition strikes me as excessively dismissive. I bet you there's not a single player in MLB that would touch a necklace like that if there was a 1-in-1,000 chance that he would get a PED-type punishment for being caught. There are many in MLB that take a much greater risk to consume PEDs.

Nov 25, 2013 07:04 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Well, reports seem to indicate that use was widespread prior to the start of the testing program. Other reports indicate that it's been much less widespread since. The relative rarity of positive tests could mean that many players are still taking PEDs and getting away with it, but it could also mean that the use has been dialed back. Similarly, the lack of second positive tests could mean that players get smarter about cheating after their first bust, but it could also mean that they stop trying. It's hard to say what the truth is. It's worth pointing out, though, that once you've tested positive once, you get tested more often.

As for the Phiten analogy--it's not perfect, but I don't think it's fair to call those things superstition, either. You might be right that few would use them if they were prohibited (although that might make them even more convinced of their potency), but at least some of the players who wear them now believe that they work, which (for me) is enough to doubt their judgment about the degree to which PEDs actually enhance performance. They're looking for an edge and willing to try anything, and the trainer/shady Bosch-type figure who's peddling the PEDs and stands to profit isn't necessarily going to be honest about their effects.

Nov 25, 2013 07:25 AM
 
apilgrim

Lost of good stuff from Friday on this weekend.
It should make for an easy daily podcast on Monday.

Nov 24, 2013 17:24 PM
rating: 0
 
drmorris75

I'm of two minds on the PED implications. On the one hand, clubs clearly do not believe that PEDs are a "super soldier serum" (nice one, Ben) setting them up for collapse on a free-agent deal. On the other hand, Peralta's $52M outcome sends a disturbing signal to players that even a walk-year *bust* for PEDs is no impediment to a rich deal. That's troubling to say the very least.

Nov 24, 2013 17:56 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Sam and I discussed this on the podcast today. No impediment to one, no, but not necessarily a means to one, either. For all we know, if Peralta hadn't been caught, he might have landed an even larger deal. And he'd still have the $1.64 million in salary he forfeited last season.

Nov 25, 2013 00:54 AM
 
sbnirish77
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

This article points out two things I despise about BP.

1) being a slave to defensive metrics when two organizations decided Peralta can't play SS

2) ignoring the proven benefit of PEDs to get a player a contract (see Melky Cabrera)

What PED user is PECOTA using as a comp?

Nov 24, 2013 23:24 PM
rating: -14
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I think I've responded to similar comments you've made in the past. Since you're still making them, whatever I said must not have worked then, and probably won't work now (though I thank you for continuing to subscribe to our despicable site nonetheless!). But in case any other readers are curious, I'll answer anyway.

I'm aware of the limitations of publicly available defensive statistics, and I try to weight them appropriately. The larger the sample size, and the more agreement between metrics, the more confident I am that the ratings are reflecting reality. We now have a three-plus-season sample that says that Peralta has become a better shortstop. It's not conclusive, but it's not something I would want to completely dismiss. I'm not so confident in my own evaluation of whatever small percentage of Peralta's playing time I've seen that I would disregard, among other things, the assessment of a company that has watched and graded the difficulty of every one of his plays.

But in this case, the evidence that's more persuasive to me is, as I wrote, the way teams have treated him. It's not fair to say that two organizations have decided Peralta couldn't play shortstop. One (the Indians) decided he couldn't, or at least that he couldn't as well as a significantly younger Adrubal Cabrera. But the Tigers traded for Peralta to play shortstop, and after seeing him do so up close, decided to bring him back for the next three years to continue playing shortstop. They traded for Jose Iglesias not because Peralta was incapable of playing the position, but because he was about to be suspended for 50 games (and maybe also because he was about to become extremely expensive). They continued to play Iglesias at short after Peralta came back because A) he's their future for the next five years and B) he's a hell of a fielder. Now that we know that the Cardinals think Peralta can play short, by my count, it's one organization (four years ago) against, and two in favor. Peralta's defensive stats and treatment by teams tell the same story.

As for the financial benefits of PED use--I don't doubt that at some point, some player has made more money due to PEDs. But I don't know what the proof you're referring to is, unless I missed a verified link between Melky's PED use and his 2012 BABIP, or maybe Alex Anthopoulos saying, "Yes, we signed him because he took testosterone." If anything, Melky seems like an odd example to use as support for the idea that PED use leads to big paydays--the contract he got wasn't particularly impressive, given what he was worth to San Francisco before his suspension.

Re: PECOTA, and the fact that its historical comps could be skewed somehow by steroid use: I'm not sure what solution you're proposing. Should we stop trying to project performance at all? Or try to build a projection system based on extremely spotty knowledge about which players were juicing, and when? As I mentioned in the article, if the Cardinals thought the quality of Peralta's play was the result of his PED use, they wouldn't have given him as much money as they did after he was busted, suspended, and presumably made more wary of continuing to take something.

Nov 25, 2013 00:48 AM
 
hcaeb2000

I think Ben pointed this out in his post. The Tigers did not get rid of Peralta because he couldn't play shortstop. He was suspended and they traded for Iglesias. Yes Iglesias is a better defender but had the suspension not happened Peralta would have finished out the year at short and may have even resigned in Detroit. Though 4 years seems like a lot to me for Peralta at this point.

Nov 25, 2013 06:25 AM
rating: 0
 
nicholj

Why are we assuming that you need to continue to use PEDs to benefit from their prior use?

Maybe the theoretical PED value equation is more akin to dieting: eat less until you get to your desired weight then give up dieting and just maintain your new weight. In baseball terms, use PEDs to improve your bat speed then maintain the new bad speed without PEDs.

Sure some will fall back into their prior habits without the continued help of PEDs but some may keep most of their ill gotten gains.

Nov 25, 2013 06:11 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

I'm far from an expert, but from what I've read, steroid users tend to lose most or all of the muscle/strength they gain while juicing when they go off cycle. I'd guess that if a player took something to get bigger and stronger, then stopped taking it and continued training the same way, he'd eventually taper down to whatever default frame his genetics dictate. Mostly speculation, though.

Nov 25, 2013 06:28 AM
 
maphal

As a Reds fan, I do not like the Cardinals one bit. And yet, even I was irritated by their determination to keep using Kozma last year. Why do brilliant people do dumb things sometimes?

Nov 25, 2013 08:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Justice

With a stronger shortstop, perhaps the World Series would have gone to St. Louis. It is, of course, impossible to know whether or not the inclusion of an Alexei Ramirez or an Asdrubal Cabrera would have made any difference. But I do think Pete Kozma put St. Louis in a deep hole early in Game 1 of the Series and made it very hard for the Cardinals to win that game.

Nov 25, 2013 23:15 PM
rating: 0
 
rwphillipsstl

Any predictions on what the Cardinals WILL do with all their young arms? One of the reasons people assumed they would trade pitching for a SS was that there aren't enough slots for all of the (what appear to be) high quality arms. Depth is great, but if you have major league ready pitching languishing in AAA, it is not an efficient use of assets.

Nov 25, 2013 10:15 AM
rating: 1
 
jfranco77

Even if you don't believe the defensive metrics, teams have shown time and time again that they can win with a subpar defensive shortstop when the guy can hit.

Derek Jeter and Hanley Ramirez are the most immediate examples.

Nov 25, 2013 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
delatopia

Bill James is the first guy I can remember pointing this out -- that the 1979 Orioles didn't win with Mark Belanger at shortstop, they started winning when they put Kiko Garcia in the lineup. Doesn't surprise me a bit that Earl Weaver would be involved with this somehow.

Nov 25, 2013 20:51 PM
rating: 1
 
Schere

well, Belanger hit .170 that year with, of course, no power. And he was 35, probably not as great a defender as he had been.

He played on some great teams, though, won a ring and two pennants. His teams were 1203-813 in his appearances. So, you can win with great D and no O at SS, too.

Nov 26, 2013 14:34 PM
rating: 0
 
ofMontreal

I'm of the mind that the Cards signed Peralta because he can hit. And he's shown versatility of positions, with SS being the big one he can hold down. I wouldn't expect him to keep that position beyond 2 years.

Also, I'm under the assumption that players use various PEDs for recovery purposes: the idea being that it speeds the process. Certainly there are many training programs to increase usable strength that don't involve PEDs, so why choose them unless a specific purpose is in mind?(I'm going to ignore the whole young & foolish men angle.) I think the blame game has more to do with gossip and news making since the risk is fairly large on the players part. I certainly don't agree with Buster Olney on the matter, mostly because it denies the idea that people didn't win the competition for a certain job cause they couldn't hit or pitch to the acceptable level.

Nov 25, 2013 13:29 PM
rating: 0
 
leh1935

How come no one mentioned the terrible 2012 Peralta season?

Nov 25, 2013 21:35 PM
rating: 2
 
Marcgiz

For Peralta I think the dieting analogy is more than apt - it is right on point. He came into 2013 looking much slimmer. If, rather than to build muscle mass, he was using something to get his weight under control, than he could well continue to benefit from whatever he took long after he stopped using it. Also remember, we don't know what he did to get suspended. One thing he didn't do, though, was test positive.

Nov 26, 2013 04:26 AM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

Peralta (along with all of the other non-analytical Biogenisis positives) are actually much more valuable because they have demonstrated that they can continue to take PEDs and NOT be caught by analytical testing.

They are not examples of the testing system working. In fact, they are evidence it is NOT working.

He just needs a better supplier. He might have fear of unscrupulous MLB investigators, but he has no fear of the MLB testing system.

Nov 26, 2013 10:25 AM
rating: -1
 
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